On the 04.06.19 the Bournemouth University Centre of Seldom Heard Voices held an event to raise awareness and understanding of the scale of sexual abuse in older people.
The event was advertised and supported by the Pan-Dorset &Wiltshire Teaching Partnership. The free event for Social Work practitioners, students, academics and colleagues from the voluntary sector was well received. 65 participants were able to hear from Dr Hannah Bows from Durham University, Jackie Farquharson from Dorset Police and Helen Stevens from STARS (Sexual Trauma Recovery Service) about the issues around sexual abuse in older people. Critical questions were raised about the definition of the term, professional bias and subsequent underreporting by agencies as well as responses from agencies. The terminology of ‘abuse’ can downgrade the crime and we heard about the challenges for the police in bringing prosecutions when there were questions of capacity of the victim. Practitioners may lack training which specifically deals with older people and sexual violence leading to uncertainty about best practice.
STARS shared what services they are able to offer to victims of sexual abuse across the lifespan and reiterated that sexual abuse in childhood can still impact on people in later life.
In the afternoon we were all invited to take part in focus groups to harness the professional wisdom from the participants and consider the barriers for disclosure of sexual abuse in older age by victims as well as barriers for interventions. The focus groups were recorded and will be evaluated by the research centre to develop further research and share developing practice models.
The event truly brought academia and practice together- there was shared learning and challenge of perception what sexual abuse is and means for older people. The practice wisdom can now be incorporated into teaching students in Social Work and Criminology alike, taking into account the legal definitions and restraints around the Care Act (2014) and sexual violence.
Policy makers and Safeguarding board members were able to hear the barriers to access interventions for victims and social care service users from a research perspective. Working with the practitioners and service providers in the focus groups, ideas where shared and connections made to enable research and practice led policy making for the future.